The Last Caravaggio

Francesca Whitlum-Cooper


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National Gallery Company Ltd
9 April 2024
ISBN: 9781857097207
56 pages

From the publisher

Accompanies the exhibition at the National Gallery, London, 18 April–21 July 2024.

In Naples, in early May 1610, just two months before his untimely death, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) finished painting The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula. According to legend, Saint Ursula, a fourth-century Christian princess, was killed for refusing to marry against her faith. Here we witness the violence at uncomfortably close quarters, with Ursula’s hands framing the fatal wound in her chest, while the bystander interjects between the two protagonists just moments too late. Caravaggio includes his own self portrait in the background, looking on helplessly.

One of the greatest storytellers in the history of art, with his tightly cropped compositions, dramatic chiaroscuro and use of real models, Caravaggio here opens a vivid and startlingly modern window onto the seventeenth century, and reflects his own turbulent life story. Yet this unusual depiction of Saint Ursula also provides the chance to look beyond the artist himself and explore the point of view of an empowered female saint, heroine as well as victim.